3 of 5
By Abby Geni
340 pages; Counterpoint

Geni's debut novel, the winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for fiction, is a dazzling blend of dark mystery and adventure—as well as an unexpected meditation on motherhood. The book begins with an eye-opening setting: the Farallon Islands, 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, where globe-trotting photographer Miranda plans to spend a year shooting sharks, whales, seals, birds and other wildlife. The landscape is perilous and savage, and there's also plenty of feral behavior back at camp, where old-salt naturalists and younger scholars harbor secrets and bad blood. When Miranda suffers an act of cruelty (worth discovering on your own), more anger and violence rise to the surface. Geni is so skilled a storyteller that The Lightkeepers keeps you on the edge your seat as if you're reading a thriller, but she's done more here than write a straight-ahead mystery. Each chapter is framed as a letter from Miranda to her dead mother, which adds poignancy to the story. The lyrical sentences also create vivid, breathtaking snapshots of this little-explored land. (She marvels at how the whales "camouflage themselves as waves, as clouds, as islets, as reflections of light.") The Farallons may be tiny and remote, but Geni knows that, from Robinson Crusoe to Lord of the Flies, such constrained and lawless spaces can make for great dramatic fiction.